A DECADE has passed since Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University, put forward the idea of a global “democratic recession”. The tenth edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index suggests that this unwelcome trend remains firmly in place. The index, which comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties—concludes that less than 5% of the world’s population currently lives in a “full democracy”. Nearly a third live under authoritarian rule, with a large share of those in China. Overall, 89 of the 167 countries assessed in 2017 received lower scores than they had the year before.
Norway remains the most democratic country in the ranking, a position it has held since 2010, and western Europe accounts for 14 of the 19 “full democracies” that make up the ranking’s top tier. Nonetheless, the region’s average score slipped slightly in 2017, to an average of 8.38 points out of 10. The Spanish government’s attempt to stop Catalonia’s independence referendum by force on October 1st caused the country’s score to fall by 0.22 points, leaving it just 0.08 points above the “flawed democracy” threshold. In Malta, the unresolved murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption blogger, raised questions about the rule of law and the authorities’ willingness to investigate sensitive crimes, leading to a drop of 0.24 points. And France, already a “flawed democracy” according to the taxonomy of the index, fell further down the table, even though its voters firmly rejected a far-right candidate in a presidential election last year. The country’s civil-liberties score declined because its legislature passed a law expanding the government’s emergency powers.